Fantasy Football Sleepers: Week12
As the weeks go by it’s becoming increasingly difficult to determine those players that are true sleepers at their respective positions. Still, whether due to new opportunities or their talent simply beginning to win out, there are players that find themselves in a good spot to produce on a level they have yet to in 2023. Most of these players are not going to single-handedly win you the week, but they could break out in a way that finds them easily out-performing their current projections and rankings. Though, as is always the case with sleepers they also have the potential to leave you disappointed. Below are 10 players that I believe have a great opportunity this week to fill in for injured stars or take the place of those struggling players. Some have already shown their immense upside and performed very well for fantasy, and yet they have taken up permanent residence on the bench in most leagues. In week 12, there’s reason to believe that should change.
Week 12 Sleepers
Gardner Minshew (QB)
Indianapolis Colts vs. TB (1% Start)
So far, the Gardner Minshew experience has been a bit of a mixed bag with some incredible highs (31.1 fantasy points in Week 7 against Cleveland) and some predictable lows (four games under 12.0 fantasy points). Minshew is not a quarterback who makes it easy to trust him in fantasy, and beyond two QB leagues or super-flex leagues he is little more than a backup. But he has shown the ability to produce under the right circumstances, and a week 12 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could provide those circumstances. Coming out of their bye the Colts, who are still in playoff contention with a 5-5 record, will be looking to get things rolling on offense. This Colts team has a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball with Michael Pittman and Jonathan Taylor, and Minshew & Co. will look to take advantage of a Buccaneers defense that just allowed Brock Purdy to complete 21 of 25 passes for 333 yards and three touchdowns. If that performance was an exception it would be easy to write it off, but the Buccaneers have been the third-most quarterback-friendly matchup in 2023, allowing over 20 points a game to the position. If there ever was a time that Minshew could put up low-end QB1 numbers, it’s this week.
Kyler Murray (QB)
Arizona Cardinals vs. LAR (31% Start)
It’s hard to believe with how Kyler Murray has performed over the last couple of weeks that he’s not being started in more leagues. I would imagine that’s because he sat out through week nine recovering from injury so teams that drafted him or picked him up, did so as a backup plan and not as a player they were intending on using as their weekly starter. Still, perhaps that should change now that we’ve seen him lead this offense for two weeks. In his first week back (week 10), Murray performed admirably, finishing with 17.26 fantasy points and just outside the top-12 at the position as the QB13. In week 11, he improved upon both of those finishes, scoring 23.66 fantasy points as the QB6 on the week. Even more impressive than his final stat line is that he seems to be completely over the knee injury that sidelined him, rushing 13 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns since returning. While Murray has certainly looked good he’s yet to have a vintage Kyler Murray performance. That could happen in week 12 against a Los Angeles Rams team that is middle-of-the-pack against opposing quarterbacks. In fantasy, quarterbacks that provide a safe rushing floor are extremely valuable. As Murray becomes more and more comfortable and further removed from injury we could be in store for a second-half breakout just in time for the fantasy playoffs.
Kyren Williams (RB)
Los Angeles Rams vs. ARI (2% Start)
Kyren Williams is expected to return in week 12 after missing four games with an ankle injury. For the Los Angeles Rams, it could not possibly come at a better time with Cooper Kupp possibly missing time with an ankle injury of his own. In his absence, Darrell Henderson and Royce Freeman have filled in admirably and found some success from a fantasy perspective, but neither have been as effective as Williams who should slide right back into the workhorse role he had prior to getting injured. The last time we saw Williams in game action he carried the ball 20 times for 158 yards and one touchdown. That’s an average of almost eight yards per carry. He also scored seven touchdowns in six games. While his role in the passing game is non-existent, no other running back on the Rams’ roster has that type of rushing or touchdown upside. Rookie standout, Puka Nacua is also dealing with an injury and is questionable to play in week 12. If either or both of Kupp and Nacua are limited or out, the Rams could lean on the run game a little more than usual. Arizona is the third-worst defense against running backs, giving up 26.8 points a game to the position. If Williams is healthy and good to go the assumption is he’ll see the bulk of the work, and if he does he should again produce as a high-end RB2 with some upside.
James Cook (RB)
Buffalo Bills vs. PHI (59% Start)
Coming into the 2023 season, James Cook was a popular sleeper and breakout selection. With Devin Singletary gone, we all thought that Cook would finally get the workload his talent deserves and in return would flirt with weekly RB1 numbers. That has not happened, finishing in the top-12 at the position just three times in 11 games. The workload is largely there with Cook receiving at least 12 carries in all but two games, but what is surprising is how little the Bills have used Cook in the passing game. His ability as a pass catcher is what had so many managers excited coming into this season, but through 11 games, Cook has seen more than four targets just once (week 1) this season. If he were being used more in the passing game it’s very likely he would not qualify as a sleeper and would simply be a set-it-and-forget RB2, but as I’ve said many times, this season has been highly unpredictable. Still, in week 12 the Bills could find themselves in a shootout with the Philadelphia Eagles and may rely more on all their pass catchers, including Cook. The Eagles are the No. 1 defense against opposing running backs, allowing under 60 yards rushing per game and just 14.6 fantasy points to the position. Still, as a dual threat, Cook could see his highest target volume since week 1 and produce solid RB2 numbers.
Jaylen Warren (RB)
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. CIN (42% Start)
Pittsburgh Steelers RB Jaylen Warren has been on an absolute tear over the last three games and has outperformed teammate Najee Harris in the last two. Over that span, Warren has two 100-yard rushing performances and has at least 88 rushing yards in all three. He’s also added a rushing touchdown in two consecutive games. While the complete takeover of this backfield that many were predicting has not happened, Warren has gotten more and more work and has shown what he is capable of every time he touches the ball. He has done so while being on the field less than 50% of snaps in all but one game. The Steelers would be smart to get him even more involved than he is now. To his credit, Najee Harris has not been bad, but Warren looks more explosive and elusive and has earned more touches. Even if that doesn’t happen, with an offense that has found it difficult to find success in the passing game there should be plenty of backfield touches to go around, making both Harris and Warren good weekly plays. In week 12, the Steelers will face a Bengals team that may struggle to sustain drives with the loss of QB Joe Burrow under center. This could create a favorable game script for the talented Warren in Week 12.
Demario Douglas (WR)
New England Patriots vs. NYG (1% Start)
Over the last several weeks two things have become clear about the Patriots offense and Douglas’s role in it. Demario Douglas is the WR1 for this team and it remains to be seen how much value there is in being the WR1 for the Patriots. Still, Douglas has seen six or more targets in four games straight, and coming out of their bye Bill Belichick may find ways to get his talented rookie more involved. The reality is that Douglas’s success is directly linked to whoever is throwing him the ball and whether it’s Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe, or someone else, the quality of those passes doesn’t inspire much confidence. The good news for Douglas is that you know he will be on the field and has shown an ability to make the most of the targets he does receive. Douglas has seen over 70% of snaps in all of his last three games, and while that has not led to anything more than WR3 production he did manage to catch six passes for 84 yards in week 10. He will now go up against a New York Giants defense that is a bottom-five defense against opposing wide receivers, allowing 40.4 fantasy points a game, so Douglas may be able to produce regardless of who is under center.
Josh Downs (WR)
Indianapolis Colts vs. TB (2% Start)
In week 7, against a stingy Cleveland Browns defense, Josh Downs exploded onto the scene, catching five passes for 125 yards and a score. But over the last two weeks, Downs has caught just three passes for 50 yards combined. While he was a popular waiver wire add after that top-3 performance, Downs has been relegated to fantasy benches in recent weeks. But the rookie is still an electric player when healthy and is in a great spot to get back on track against Tampa Bay this week. The Buccaneers are not good against the pass, allowing the third most points to opposing QBs and the fourth most to WRs, which makes the matchup really appealing. Not quite as appealing is the significant drop in offensive snaps we’ve seen for Downs over the last two weeks. Downs has failed to see more than 25% of snaps in either game, and just a total of four targets, but that could be attributed to him still being limited due to a knee injury he’s been nursing. With a week 11 bye though, Downs has had some extra time to recover and should see closer to the 70-80% snap share he was seeing before the last two weeks. If that’s the case, his skill set is a perfect fit for a Buccaneers defense that has had trouble covering wide receivers out of the slot, which is where Downs tends to operate. A bounce-back performance for a fully recovered Downs seems likely.
Elijah Moore (WR)
Cleveland Browns vs. DEN (14% Start)
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Elijah Moore has been a disappointment in 2023. Moore was considered by many to be a breakout candidate coming into the season. Of course, that was based on the assumption that a healthier, improved Deshaun Watson would be throwing him the ball. Well, the breakout has not come, but in week 11 it did seem that Elijah Moore and Deshaun Watson were beginning to get on the same page. Unfortunately, Moore will now be without his starting quarterback for the rest of the season. This will cap the ceiling for the entire Cleveland offense on a weekly basis, with Deshaun Watson out and rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson set to start moving forward. Still, the rookie is going to have to rely on his veteran pass catchers if he hopes to find any success in the passing game. To be fair to Thompson-Robinson his two starts have been against the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, two very good defenses that have limited even the best of quarterbacks. He, and Moore, will have a much more favorable matchup in week 12 against the Denver Broncos. Moore will never win you a week and may not be the most consistent contributor, but in week 12 he could have one of his best outputs of the season.
Isaiah Likely (TE)
Baltimore Ravens vs. LAC (1% Start)
After Mark Andrews left week 11 with an ankle injury that should, at the very least, keep him out multiple weeks, and most likely for the rest of the season, Likely is set for an expanded role. In 2022, when Likely was asked to fill in he proved he was capable of producing with three top-10 finishes at the tight end position. Now, in his 2nd year, he may even be more capable. When the Ravens drafted wide receiver Zay Flowers the belief was that they would become more pass-heavy and that Lamar Jackson could support multiple fantasy-relevant pass catchers. But through 11 weeks, Jackson is throwing it roughly as much as he did in 2022. and outside of Andrews, consistency has been hard to come by. Jackson is still showing an affinity for targeting his tight end, and even though that tight end will not be Andrews in week 12, I think that tendency will continue. If it does, the matchup is great for Likely. The Chargers are allowing the third most fantasy points to tight ends, giving up over 15 points. The Ravens defense is good enough that they should be able to keep the game close, which might mean another low-volume passing game for Jackson of 27-31 attempts. Still, if Likely sees 25% of those targets like Andrews has most weeks, he could produce as a top-10 tight end this week.
Pat Freiermuth (TE)
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. CIN (20% Start)
After missing five games with a hamstring injury, Freiermuth finally returned to game action. Managers who had been holding onto him were excited to see what he would do and how he would impact the Steelers offense. That excitement was short-lived as Freiermuth disappointed, only mustering up one catch for seven yards. But he was on the field for 53% of snaps and made it through the game without re-aggravating his hamstring injury, and as he gets healthier there could be brighter days ahead. Those could start as early as week 12 when Freiermuth faces a Bengals defense that is giving up 14.6 points (5th most) to tight ends. If Ben Roethlisberger was still the one throwing passes for this team, Freiermuth would have top-5 upside, but, unfortunately, Freiermuth is stuck with Kenny Pickett, making it hard to trust any of the pass-catchers, but Freiermuth does have a history of producing against Cincinnati. In four games against them, he has compiled 216 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The Bengals are also without QB Joe Burrow for the rest of the year, which could lead to a lot of three-and-outs and more offensive possessions for the Steelers. Freiermuth has a much better chance of rewarding those who held onto him this week and could finish as a top-10 tight end.
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